First Cup: Friday
April, 4, 2014
By Nick Borges
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook stared at San Antonio’s bench, smirked and then told the Spurs exactly what he was and was not going to do. “I ain’t gon’ stop,” he said after swishing a late second-quarter 3-pointer, securing a momentum-shifting two-for-one scoring opportunity with 29.4 seconds showing. “You know that. I’m gon’ keep going.” Westbrook wasn’t kidding. He was relentless. With persistent attacks on the basket and pressure in the passing lanes, Westbrook led the Thunder to a 106-94 win over the Spurs, snapping San Antonio’s league- and franchise-best 19-game winning streak in what was a potential conference finals preview Thursday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Westbrook scored 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting and added six assists and four steals. In his 31 minutes, Westbrook supplied a steady stream of game-changing sequences and jaw-dropping highlights.
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: For most Spurs fans, the pressing question leading into Thursday's game at Oklahoma City was whether coach Gregg Popovich would choose to play or rest his Big Three. For Popovich, the most interesting question heading into the game was how 22-year-old defensive stopper Kawhi Leonard would fare facing the NBA's most dangerous scorer. By the end of the Thunder's 106-94 victory, which stopped the Spurs' 19-game winning streak, Durant had pumped in 28 points to extend one of the more notable offensive runs in league history. Leonard, however, had passed his test, too. ... Save for a 6-minute stretch to start the second half when he was on the bench with three fouls, Leonard shadowed Durant. The OKC star surpassed 25 points for the 39th consecutive night, one shy of Michael Jordan's modern record, but he needed 26 shots to get there. Before Thursday, Leonard had faced Durant in six of a possible 12 quarters this season, sitting out one meeting with a tooth problem and missing half of another after breaking his hand. In the two full games Durant has worked against Leonard this season, he is a combined 21 of 49 from the field.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The Thunder hadn’t played one of the NBA’s other elite teams (.600 or above winning percentage) since March 11 and had played only one (Houston) since Feb. 23. The rust showed early. The amazing Spurs were efficient early, made 19 of their first 35 shots and had the Thunder huffing and puffing just to stay within striking range. The Thunder had won nine of their last 11 games against the Spurs, but San Antonio hadn’t lost to anybody since Feb. 21, and you were starting to wonder if Popovich’s powerhouse ever would lose again. But the return of a big game or the return of Perkins (sidelined since Feb. 20 with a groin strain) or a sense of late-season urgency had the Thunder ready for such a volley. The Thunder toughened up like we haven’t seen in a long time. Popovich hailed the Thunder’s physicality. The Thunder roughed up the Spurs the last 27 minutes of the game. ... So this game was not necessarily a referendum on a potential West finals showdown. The Thunder remains a bad matchup for the Spurs. But the Spurs remain a proud and battle-tested team. Their streak is over. Their quest is not. Bring on the playoffs, where the Thunder is the West favorite if it plays defense like this.
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Expectations for the Mavericks are hard to pin down. They change daily. About the only thing they can rely on is that they expect every game they play to go down to the wire. That puts the pressure on everybody, especially coach Rick Carlisle, whose late-game decisions will be scrutinized more closely in the season’s final two weeks. That’s as it should be. It’s not just the players who are overanalyzed at this time of the season. For Carlisle, one of the crucial choices he has to make on a game-to-game basis involves who is on the court when the game is on the line. Two players are automatic — Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. However, when Carlisle weighs his options about whether to play players who lean toward the defensive end of the court or the offensive end, that’s where things get tricky.
- Robert Morales of the Los Angeles Daily News: Doc Rivers was asked if he coaches this team differently than the veteran Boston Celtics team he left behind as it pertains to minutes played and so forth. His Boston team last season included 17-year player Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who had 13 years under his belt. “That’s a good question and I don’t know the correct answer,” Rivers said. “It’s funny, I look at this team and they’re so young and they’re all like pissed when you take them out them out of the game no matter at what point. With that team in Boston, I mean, Kevin (Garnett) would give you a hug when you took him out.” Reporters broke out laughing. “The only guy I watch most, because Chris (Paul), I think can always use rest,” Rivers said. “And Blake. DJ (DeAndre Jordan), I swear, could play 48 minutes a night. He just doesn’t look like he’s ever tired. But he probably needs it, too.” Griffin, Jordan and Paul average 35.8, 35.5 and 35.1 minutes, respectively.
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Mark Cuban is putting his money where his mouth is and said he will fund a study aimed at finding out if Human Growth Hormone could help athletes at all levels recover from traumatic injuries. The Mavericks’ owner said before Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers that he is investing “more than the [NBA] minimum salary” to fund the two-year study. “I want to find out,” Cuban said. “I just want to know what reality is. And if we can improve recovery time, obviously that’s a plus for all of us. There was never any basis in fact for not allowing it for use [while recovering from injuries]. So let’s find out. “Let’s find out what’s real and not real. If it turns out to have no impact, OK. If it turns out to have a negative impact, OK. If it turns out to have a positive impact, OK. There’s not an outcome they’re trying to get to.” The fact-finding mission is something Cuban has been considering for months.
- Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: But an ESPN The Magazine article from October 2013 detailed how more Major League Baseball teams — including the Boston Red Sox — are exploring the idea of quantifying chemistry to help better construct their rosters. One aspect noted was that some teams, such as the Red Sox, have tried using more extensive background checks to gauge a player’s personality, which then helped them carefully determine if that player fits into the construct of their team. NBA sources have heard rumblings of teams experimenting with the notion of trying to quantify chemistry — though it’s unclear if the Celtics are one of them — but it’s still in the earliest stages and nothing conclusive has yet been found. Even still, chemistry is considered to be one of the next frontiers in the basketball analytics revolution, a notion raised several times at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences held last month in Boston. Celtics rookie coach Brad Stevens, whose team plays the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday at TD Garden, is enticed by the idea. “The chemistry stuff matters,” he said. “It matters a lot.”
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: One of the most beloved athletes in South Florida sports history is going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Former Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning received word Wednesday that he has been selected as a first-ballot inductee. For a professional athlete, there is no higher honor. Mourning, now an executive in the Heat’s front office, was at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday but did not speak with reporters. Though Mourning had the patience to wait for the Hall of Fame’s formal announcement before speaking publicly about his induction, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and the team’s players showed no such restraint Thursday. In a poignant moment, LeBron James and the Heat celebrated the news of Mourning’s induction with a symbolic team huddle that included Mourning in the middle.
- Ben Dolnick of The New York Times: The writer is Phil Jackson, newly ordained savior of the Knicks and author of a nearly Mailer-like profusion of books. Getting through the 1,682 pages of his collected works requires every trick in his oeuvre: every breathing technique, every Lao Tzu quotation, every positive visualization. As in meditation, the rewards are considerable, but so is the suffering. Of course, his books are not meant to be read all in a gulp. They are meant to be savored individually, by fans sporting throwback Kobe Bryant jerseys, or by chief executives applying the principles of the triangle offense to the boardroom, or by high school coaches wondering what to do with the proto-Rodmans in their charge. If you read Jackson this way, as most people do, you will have an intermittently good time, and you will come away with a handful of memorable tidbits. You will learn, for instance, that Jerry Buss, the former Los Angeles Lakers owner who died in 2013 (and the father of Jackson’s fiancée), had a “penchant for hanging out with young girls and dancing till 3 in the morning.” You will learn that in Game 6 of the 1997 N.B.A. finals, the Chicago Bulls’ equipment manager accidentally gave the players GatorLode, a high-carbohydrate drink, rather than Gatorade, meaning that each player “ingested the equivalent of about 20 baked potatoes.” What you will not do, though, is realize the peculiar beauty that Jackson’s books, like starlings, possess only collectively. When it comes to this particular depth of Jackson appreciation, I may (depending on whether Jackson himself has ever made it all the way through “More Than a Game”) stand entirely alone.